the increment value

Cendrars’s “Travel Notes” provides a contrasts to “Kodak” – in that it documents actual travel experience. The poem “On Board the Formosa” creates an interesting portrait:

Here’s what happening on board

On the fo’c’sle four Russians have sat down inside a bundle of ropes and are playing cards by the glimmering light of a
Chinese lantern

On the open deck forward the Jews in the minority as they are at home in Poland are huddled together and give way to the
Spaniards who are playing the mandolin singing and dancing the jota

In the deckhouse the Portuguese emigrants are doing a peasant round a dark man is clicking two long castanets made of
bone and the couples break the round go around turn around bang their heels while a woman’s shrill voice rises


this poem goes on describing the scene in these long lines, highlighting the multicultural aspect of the trip. Other poems describe his experiences at particular stops along the way.

The Vultures

The black village is less shabby and less dirty than the slums of Saint-Ouen
The vultures that fly over it swoop down sometimes to clean it up



Never again
I’ll never drag my ass into another one of these colonial dives
I want to be this poor black man I want to be this poor black who stands in the doorway
Because the beautiful black girls would be my sisters
And not
And not
These stinking French Spanish Serbian German bitches who furnish the leisures of gloomy functionaries dying to be stationed
in Paris and who don’t know how to kill time
I want to be that poor black man and fritter my time away


It is most obvious here that these poems are still tourist poems, despite their sobriety. But it is their sobriety that is almost redeptive:

Cabin No. 6

I live here
I should always live here
I deserve no praise for staying shut in and working
Besides I don’t work I write down everything that goes through my head
Well not really everything
Because tons of things go through my head but don’t get out into the cabin
I’m living in a breeze the porthole wide open and the fan whirring
Not reading



It is Sunday on the water
It’s hot
I’m in my cabin as if trapped in melting butter


Perhaps I’m just enamored with how unromantic (is that to say honest?) this description is. This is not brochure writing, not your “Conde Nast”. In another poem, “Baggage”, Cendrars simply lists the objects that he has with him in his trunk that weight “115 pounds without my gray hat”. These poems are dull and sober, with occasional moments of beauty:


It’s odd
For two days now that we’ve been in sight of land not a single bird has met us or followed in our wake
On the other hand
At dawn
As we were entering the Bay of Rio
A butterfly as big as your hand came fluttering all around the steamer
It was black and yellow with big streaks of faded blue


A powerful poem in this collection is called “Rio de Janeiro”:

Everyone is on deck
We’re in among the mountains
A lighthouse goes dark
They’re looking everywhere for the Sugarloaf and ten people find it in a hundred different directions so much do these
mountains look alike in their pyroformity
Mr. Lopart shows me a mountain with its profile against the sky like a cadaver stretched out with its silhouette looking like
Napoleon on his deathbed
i think it looks more like Wagner a Richard Wagner puffed up with pride or overwhelmed with fat
Rio is now quite near and you can make out houses on the beach
The officers compare this panorama to that of the Golden Horn
Other talk about the revolts of the forts
Other unanimously deplore the construction of a big tall square modern hotel that disfigures the bay (the hotel is very beautiful)
Still others vehemently protest the leveling of a mountain
Leaning over the starboard rail I look at
The tropical vegetation of a deserted little island
The huge sun that cuts through the huge vegetation
A little boat with three fishermen
These men moving slowly and methodically
Who work
Who fish
Who catch the fish
Who do not even look at us
Absorbed in their craft


we can read this poem alongside the poem “Sao Paulo”

I adore this city
Sao Paulo is after my own heart
No tradition here
No prejudice
Ancient or modern
All that matters is this furious appetite this absolute confidence this optimism this daring this work this labor this speculation which builds ten houses per hour in all styles ridiculous grotesque beautiful big small northern southern Egyptian Yankee cubist
With no other concern than to follow the statistics foresee the future the comfort the utility the increment value and to attract a large immigrant population
All countries
All peoples
I love that
The two or three old Portuguese houses that remain are blue china

In “Rio”, Cendrars evades judgement – allows the others to mourn the construction of the hotel, the leveling of the mountain, the loss of their vacation “paradise” no longer virgin. Cendrars notices the fisherman who do not notice the tourists, who are absorbed in their craft. The parallel is quite stunning – the scene a dramatic portrayal of a moment of change in which there is no sense of resistance to the seemingly inevitability of modernism, industrialism, tourism. “Sao Paulo” goes a bit further; Cendrars celebrates the “furious appetite” of modernization – he sees a city embracing all forms, all cultures, all ages – a complete surrender to transculturation, and the infrastructure to support this change – “the increment value” of globalization. Despite this celebration, Cendrars is not unaware of its dangers (just blinded by optimism) as shown in two poems “Delay” and “The Day Will Come”.


It’s almost two in the morning and we still haven’t left
They never stop loading coffee
The sacks go go and go up the never-ending hoists and drop to the bottom of the hold like the bloated pigs of Chicago
I’m sick of it
I’m going to bed

(okay, bad example…but I love how this poem reveals the bourgeious bohemianism of Cendrars as he completely ignores the injustices of the coffee industry). For real now:

The Day Will Come

The day will come
Modern technology can’t handle it anymore
Each crossing costs the voters a million
With planes and dirigibles it will cost ten million
Underwater cables my first-class cabin the wheels the port projects the big industries eat money
All the prodigious activity which is our pride
Machines can’t handle it anymore
On his dungheap Job still uses his electric face massager
That’s nice


These poems were published between 24-28, so it is almost an ominous foreshadowing of The Great Depression, in which there won’t be much coffee being loaded onto ships or sold. But Cendrars misses the point in some ways, it is not only the machines that can’t handle it, but those oppressed by the machine, made wretched, won’t be able to handle it – it is the entire colonial/industrial system that will collapse – this dream of internationalism will fail with WW2, the Cold War, 9/11 and the War on Terrorism. The day has come and will not end.


One thought on “the increment value

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